"Watch yourself as you go about your daily business and later reflect on what you saw, trying to identify the sources of distress in your life and thinking about how to avoid that distress." - William B. Irvine, "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy"
Resolutions don't change bodies, minds, careers, businesses and lives, actions do.
But, without the right approach, it can be near impossible to take the actions needed to get where you're desperate to go!
Behavior change--exercise, diet, meditation, changing careers or launching a business, writing a book, making art--is hard, really hard. Most people fail. Not because they're incapable of doing what needs to be done, but because they don't know how to do it right.
They don't know where to find valid information. They don't know whom to trust. They don't understand what it really takes to cultivate substantial progress and change. And they don't know how to create the structures that absolutely must be in place to support the small daily behaviors that culminate in extraordinary change and achievement over time.
Here are the 7 keys to successful behavior change and quest achievement:
You must know what the right behaviors, actions and decisions are. If you want to lose 50 pounds, you need to know what action will lead to that outcome. If you want to launch or build a world-changing venture, you need to know the steps that will make it happen (and more importantly the ones to avoid that'll tear it down). If you're trying to build a good life, you need to know what goes into that bucket and what needs to be tossed.
You need support on three levels, if possible: peer support, co-striver support and mentor support.
- Peer support is critical as a source of inspiration, information and accountability.
- Co-striver support (people who are striving to do similar things at similar times) adds the element of creating what's called a "normalizing" experience. Knowing a tight-knit group of co-strivers are going through similar struggles, embracing tough challenges and working through them makes you realize you're not alone and, although it's tough, there are others right there with you and you're all going to get through it together. Note, too, you don't all have to be working on the same thing, project, quest or organization. It's more about sharing the experience on the level of parallel play.
- Mentors and coaches are people who are further down the road than you who can share wisdom and insights designed to help you correct course, avoid mistakes (though, some you'll have to make yourself to get how to do it right) and accelerate your quest. Most important when finding and choosing mentors and coaches, too, is that (a) you trust them, (b) they're genuinely qualified to help you, either through training or experience and (c) they're invested in your success and genuinely care.
You've got to have a clearly established "why." If it's a simple change or goal you aspire to, old school carrot and stick, i.e., extrinsic motivation will often get the job done.
But for longer term, more complex, involved quests, a deeper, more intrinsic, internal source of motivation will be a stronger driver of consistent action over time, which is what determines success.
One key to intrinsic motivation is something I call "alignment." When the behaviors you're looking to cultivate or the quest you aspire to complete is poorly aligned with who you are and what makes you come alive, it makes the process so jarring to your system, your likelihood of doing the work to needed to succeed plummets.
When what you're trying to build is so tightly aligned with all aspects of who you are that it feels like it's an organic extension of your being, you'll still end up working like crazy to get it done, but it will feel far more effortless. High-levels of alignment tend to jack intrinsic motivation through the roof. And they keep it there longer. Your "why" is more about DNA than packaging.
This can be a huge issue with aspiring entrepreneurs and career changers. In addition to personal alignment, you also need to align business model, mode of delivery, creative orientation, leadership orientation and a number of other "degrees of alignment" that will be specific to your quest.
When you understand how to tee it all up right, your quest sings. You don't ever need to look for a reason to do the work. Problem is, very few people know how to do this well.
Instead, they align their actions and vision with what they think will succeed, what looks good or "justifiable" on paper, rather than aligning their quest and actions with the fiber of their being. Huge mistake.
Because even if you end up building something the world deems successful, you'll end suffering way more than necessary and will be significantly more likely to have built a business or achieved a quest the world deems a success, but you experience as a miss or, worse...a cage.
Legendary Stanford professor, B.J. Fogg, has studied persuasion for years and devised his own model for behavior change. One of the big discoveries, simplicity trumps information. Take the complexity out of your approach and make it as easy as possible to learn what to do and then do it.
When it comes to action-taking, simplicity rules, complexity drools.
If you want to exercise every morning, leave your running shoes and clothes right next to your bed when you rise and have a running partner meet you every morning outside your door.
I meditate for 25 minutes every morning like clockwork, no matter my schedule is the rest of the day. And no matter where I am in the world or how tired I may be when I awaken.
One of the keys has been to prepare my meditation area before I go to bed. I set up my cushion, a glass of water, my timer, and a blanket if it's cold. I remove complexity and, more important, I remove decision-making from the system.
What you'll find is that it's not the doing of the thing that's hard. It's the beginning. Once I'm on the cushion, the next 25 minutes flow with relative ease (okay, so maybe that took a bit of practice).
But research shows beginning a task or a process is a far greater challenge than continuing it once it's begun. So make it as simple as possible to begin.
You need to create a very clear picture of what success looks like. Because if you don't, you wont understand what you're aspiring to. Nor will you know when you've arrived.
Things like mission statements, painted pictures, perfect-day exercises, outcome visualizations, they can all help you understand where you're going and what your personal metrics for success are.
But, when you're in the part of any quest I call The Thrash, you often don't yet have a clear beat on your metrics for success. But you still need something to strive for. You need something to measure. You need to know if you're moving forward, backward or sideways.
While you're in this part of your journey, your Circle of Champions will be a powerful source of guidance (and sanity) to allow you to divine and refine what matters and what's worth measuring. They will see things that you are blind to.
Once you have the first five in place, you need an action framework. A plan of action that's not just some one-size-fits-all, but rather a simple to use methodology (again, if it's complex, it won't work) that allows you to:
- Identify the daily, weekly and monthly actions needed to get from where you are now to where you want to go.
- Memorialize them, either in writing or digitally.
- Track progress over time (this, according to the work of Professor Teresa Amabile, is critical).
- Adapt to changing circumstances and new information, without losing momentum
This may be last but it may also be most important. You must break the giant action steps of your quest into bite size habits, turning the big action steps from intimidating behaviors into easy rituals.
What's the difference?
Behavior requires willpower. Rituals happen auto-magically.
Rituals (or habits) are behaviors repeated in a systematic way over time that move from conscious choice to autopilot action. The more you ritualize success activities, the more you free-up brainpower and willpower, making it more likely that you'll do the things needed to change what you're trying to change.
When you're building behaviors and actions into rituals that require some level of will, you're better off building the ritual into the earlier part of your day. This is because willpower is a limited resource and by late afternoon, your tank starts to run pretty close to empty.
If it's a behavior you actually enjoy or are intrinsically drawn to, like painting or playing guitar or creating a product, business or service you love, these will generally require far less willpower. Time of day becomes less important.
Putting It All Together
Does all of this take effort?
Darn straight it does.
But the cost of not putting in the effort is worse. Not doing the work leads to a life of futility, unrealized potential, of unexpressed humanity and unrequited connection. I'd rather do the work than muddle through life with my soul-tank, my body, my mindset, my relationships, my art, and my potential perpetually on half-empty.
So, what's the best time to reclaim your quest?
No matter what your goal, now is the time to move your body, eat better, meditate, set the wheels in motion for a new career, start a venture, business, or movement or create the art buried in your soul.
Just take action right now.
Your likelihood of success goes up massively once you've put the above keys into place. Do the work, find the people, create the systems, implement the knowledge, and build the support needed to breathe life back into your life.
And most important, Commit.
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way." - W. H. Murray